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248                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
"Never been done before! Well, it will be done now,n
answered Meresyev stubbornly. He drew his notebook
from his pocket, exracted the magazine clipping,
removed the cellophane wrapping from it and laid it
on the desk in front of the major.
The officers at the other desks dropped their work and
listened intently to the conversation. One of them got
up from his desk and approached the major, as if to
inquire about some business matter, asked for a light, and
glanced at Meresyev's face. The major ran his eye down
the clipping. At last he said:
"We can't go by this. It is not an official document.
We have our instructions which strictly define the various
degrees of fitness for the Air Force. I could not allow you
to handle a plane if you had two fingers missing, let alone
two feet. Here's your clipping, that's no proof. I admire
your pluck, but___"
Mereseyev was boiling with rage and felt like picking
up the inkstand from the major's desk and hurling it at
his shining bald head. In a choking voice he said:
"What about this?"
With that he put his last card on the table—the certifi-
cate signed by Army Surgeon First Rank Mirovolsky.
The major picked it up doubtfully. It was drawn up in
due and proper order, it bore the seal of the Department
of the Medical Corps, and was signed by a surgeon highly
respected in the Air Force. The major read the certificate
and his tone became more friendly. The man in front of
him was not a lunatic. This extraordinary young fellow
seriously wanted to fly, in spite of his not having feet. He
had even succeeded in convincing a sober-minded army
surgeon of considerable authority that he could do so.
The major pushed Meresyev's file aside with a sigh and
said:
"I cannot do anything for you, much as I would like to.
An army surgeon first rank can write anything he pleases,
but we have clear and definite instructions which must
not be departed from___If I depart from them, who will
answer for it—the Army Surgeon?"
Meresyev looked with burning hate at this well-fed,
self-confident, calm and polite office, at the neat collar
of his well-fitting tunic, at his hairy hands and big, close-